Sunday, December 31, 2017

Web Cam Girls (Reel One Entertainment/Lifetime, 2017)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2017 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

Now that Christmas is over Lifetime is moving away from the abysmally sappy soap operas they show during December and getting back to the sort of trashy thrillers I like from them: last night they offered the “premiere” of something called Web Cam Girls and then another movie called Fatherly Obsession. Web Cam Girls is a pretty much by-the-numbers Lifetime thriller about a naïve college student, Carolyn Hiles (Lorynn York), and her best friend and first cousin, Alex (Sedona Lange). Carolyn has latched onto a Web site that allows young, attractive women to have themselves photographed and presented online in various states of undress in exchange for “credits,” with each credit being worth $1. Alex thinks her cousin is being incredibly stupid and running the risk of something nasty happening to her, but Carolyn protests that she knows what she’s doing, that most of the guys who log on to her page just want to talk to a woman wearing nothing but underwear, and it’s harmless because no one who logs on can trace her anyway. Carolyn swears that she won’t meet any of her clients face-to-face, but she breaks her own rule when a man using the screen name “Big Daddy” logs on and demands a face-to-face meeting in exchange for 5,000 credits — and Carolyn’s greed overcomes her good sense and she agrees.

Of course, this being a Lifetime movie — scripted to formula by Stephen Romano and directed by Doug Campbell — the first face-to-face encounter with one of her Web cam clients is a dismal one, in which “Big Daddy” turns out to be interested either in selling her as a sex slave on the “dark Web” or torturing and killing her live on camera for the delectation of fellow “dark Web” customers who will pay dearly to watch a young woman being tortured and killed in real time. When Carolyn disappears from school and her home because “Big Daddy” has kidnapped her — and, we learn later, taken her to a mountain cabin where she can’t alert anyone to the danger she’s in because even if she could get to her smartphone, there’s no cell service there — Alex gets worried and hooks up with Shawn (Liam McKenna), a computer whiz who unlike most computer whizzes in Lifetime movies is actually young, personable, doesn’t wear glasses and is actually quite attractive. He’s been hanging around Alex and Carolyn, obviously hoping to make one of them his girlfriend, and he and Alex team up to find Carolyn when she goes missing. Alex’s mom Rachel (Arianne Zucker, top-billed), who’s worked her way up in airline jobs from flight attendant to pilot (can you really do that?) and is therefore rarely at home, joins the search for Carolyn — as does Scott (Jon Bridell), who’s both Rachel’s brother and Carolyn’s dad, who at first wrote Carolyn off as a slut who got what was coming to her but eventually develops genuine concern for her missing daughter.

There are essentially three suspects for “Big Daddy,” and at one point I actually thought Romano and Campbell would go for maximum kinkiness and make Carolyn’s sex-enslaver her own dad — but they didn’t go there. Instead they made the prime suspects two of Alex’a and Carolyn’s teachers, film professor Robert Thomas (Joe Hackett), who’s allergic, uses an inhaler and blows his nose a lot (this is going to become important to the plot) and English teacher Mr. Darrs (Stephen Graybill), who since he’s considerably less twitchy and more normal-looking obviously is going to turn out to be the bad guy — as indeed he does. Web Cam Girls is slow going for the first 40 minutes or so, but once Darrs is revealed as the villain (surprisingly early on) the movie becomes a powerful if occasionally silly thriller, with Alex becoming a “Web cam girl” herself to see if she can attract the mysterious pervert who kidnapped Carolyn. She does so, though Shawn gets stabbed to death for his pains (a pity that all too often in Lifetime movies we lose the most attractive non-bad guy too soon before the fade-out!), Darrs tries to frame Thomas by stealing his snotty Kleenex and planting them at Carolyn’s home, and there’s a climax at the remote mountain cabin in which Darrs is holding both Carolyn and Alex, and Rachel and Scott have to play Seventh Cavalry and rescue them. There’s also a nice scene in which the cops investigating Carolyn’s kidnapping and Shawn’s murder go to Darrs’ home and interview his wife, who of course is the typically clueless Stepford bimbo guys like Darrs marry (at least in Lifetime movies) and has no idea what her husband is doing with his spare time. Web Cam Girls (originally shot under the more generic and less sensational title Lost Girls) isn’t a great film — even a great Lifetime film — but it’s effective and fun, and Lorynn York as Carolyn shows real charisma and star potential.